By Dokun Adedeji
By the resolution 42/112 of 7th December 1987, the General Assembly of the United Nations, decided to observe June 26 of every year as the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking as an expression of its determination to strengthen action and cooperation amongst all nations of the world to achieve the goal of an international society free of drug abuse.
It was both a lofty and laudable goal that seemingly till date appeard elusive considering the current global reality.
This day since 1989 is being globally observed to serve the purpose for which it was originated.
Nigeria as a member nation of the UN,established it’s own agency called NDLEA – The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency- in 1989 but was not fully founded until 1990.
This agency was charged with the responsibility of eliminating the growing, processing, manufacturing, selling, exporting and trafficking of hard drugs.
At that time and for the enumerated purposes, it was probably the appropriate reaction but the intricate realities of today’s drug situation, has come with a need to revisit these responsibilities. I will come to that presently.
It is important at this stage to state emphatically that as a nation, we are on an epidemic!
The frightening statistics bear out this painful and unfortunate reality.
The UNODC – the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime- released some staggering details of the global and Nigerian drug situation last year.
I will just touch on a few of them:
1. There are about 35 million people worldwide who suffer from drug use disorders.
2. 2018 prevalence of any drug use in Nigeria was 14.4% corresponding to about 14 million Nigerians aged between 15 and 64.
3. Among every 4 persons with problematic drug use, 1 is a woman!
4. The highest levels of any past year drug use was among those aged between 25 and 39years.
5. 1 in 5 persons who had used drugs in the past year is suffering from drug use disorder.
6. Geographically, the highest past year prevalence of drug use was found in the Southern geopolitical zones – ranging from 13.8% to 22.4%.
Probably the most disturbing aspect of all these is the fact that a lot of problematic drug users are seeking treatment, but regrettably, these are almost not available.
Cannabis remains the most commonly used drug both globally and here in Nigeria.
As I had aforementioned, Nigeria has a major drug challenge.
The reality of this must be why the President inaugurated a special body called PACEDA- Presidential Committee on the Elimination of Drug Abuse, led by Gen Buba Marwa in February 2019.
To many of us working on the field, it was a welcome development.
I had earlier stated that I was going to come back to the matter of the NDLEA and its omnibus responsibilities.
It is our considered opinion that there must be a review of this huge responsibility if we want to make a headway in our National response to the drug problem.
We think that NDLEA can continue with its major drive of interdiction whilst PACEDA is saddled with the responsibility of drug demand reduction.
Of course, there remains the space for mutual cooperation. Our nation needs to work on drug demand reduction activities with eyes on Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation and Aftercare.
That we have a drug problem is not really the challenge but our efforts to handle it.
Let me state clearly that the time has come when we must address this problem as a public health issue. We cannot go on criminalising the use of drugs and expect to get any result.
Neither can we travel the route of stigmatising these fellows who are victims, and go on to punish them when all they need are our understanding, help, support and love.
Our collective attitude must change because these are our sons and daughters. True, in the course of their harmful habit, they have hurt us, destroyed our trust and even committed heinous crimes, we must understand that these are products of their habits.
Every human being needs a second chance. Let us give them. We have been involved in the lives of many of them who have since returned to drug free lives and doing very well in their various engagements. All hope is not lost.
The point of my engagement with the authorities and our people today as another June 26 approaches is this – will it be another tokenist involvement where there will be a lot of talk and empty activities so that we give an impression that we are worried about the trend?
True, we are in a global health crisis which is taking all our attention but I hope we can remember that many of these folks are scattered in numerous corners of our nation with nowhere to go!
I hope we can also acknowledge that because of the strictures of these times and the consequent difficulties, some more have joined their friends to start the use of drugs.
The theme for this year is: BETTER KNOWLEDGE FOR BETTER CARE.
How many of us will be persuaded to seek a better understanding of this human dilemma so that we can offer appropriate care?
Drug use is not a consequence of moral failure nor is it a crime to be punished.
We have come to know that drug use disorders are the result of a complex interplay of many factors that are very much out of the control of the affected individual. This condition should not therefore been considered as self-acquired or be punished or be stigmatised for.
We must therefore as individuals, organisations and nation, come together to deal with this common challenge.
Let this year as we mark another International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, be the turning point in our common desire to see a drug free society.
Finally, I hope the government of President Buhari who first launched a ‘war’ against drugs many years ago, will rise to the challenge we face today.
He started well with the inauguration of PACEDA.
Will he demonstrate the political will to go the whole hog and save our youth and nation from this suffocating disease?
*Dr. Dokun Adedeji is the Director General, Christ Against Drug Abuse Ministry, CADAM. (CADAM is a faith-based NGO under the Redeemed Christian Church of God that caters to the treatment and rehabilitation of persons with problematic drug use)